Conservative Ennui in an Election Year
Contrary to the oft-repeated narrative about the virtue of compromise, it seems politicians are vilified precisely because so few possess an ironclad, unshakeable commitment to principle. Congress's approval rating, regardless of which party is in control, is consistently abysmal. In this year of cross-spectrum voter discontent, there has been little enthusiasm in the Republican electorate for any of the primary candidates, each of whom has considerable past experience in government.
The Founding Fathers' view of government, and its place in society was clear. George Washington wrote: "Government is not reason; it is not eloquence; it is force. Like fire, it is a dangerous servant and a fearful master." This nation's early leaders understood that "the power to tax is the power to destroy" and they used that power judiciously.
It was not until passage of the 16th Amendment in 1913 that personal income tax was made a permanent feature of American fiscal policy. Even then, the highest marginal rate was capped at 7%.
Then in 1933, in the midst of the Great Depression, FDR rammed the New Deal through Congress and created the conditions for the modern regulatory welfare state. Opposition to the New Deal disintegrated as prominent GOP leaders including Fiorello LaGuardia, Thomas Dewey, and George Romney signed on to the biggest expansion of federal government in this nation's history. Portions of the New Deal were rolled back in the following years but the new super-structure of the entitlement state remained.
Until this time, poverty had been dealt with through private acts of charity. The best remedy for income inequality had been the radically new, and uniquely American, concept of social mobility. The idea of redistributing wealth from one group of citizens to another would have been anathema to this nation's founders.
A generation later, President Lyndon Johnson imposed upon the nation the second massive expansion of the federal government, the "Great Society" program. Again, the re-distributional agenda could not have been achieved but for the approbation of liberal Republicans. Republican Senator Clifford Case of New Jersey, who supported the program, extolled the merit of "middle-of-the-road progressivism."
The Great Society program turned the traditional American spirit of self-reliance on its head. For the first time in America, financial entitlements including Medicare, Medicaid, unemployment, and food stamps were extended to able-bodied citizens.
Finally, President Obama succeeded in affecting the third great expansion of government, the Patient Protection and Affordable Healthcare Act in 2010. The PPAHA supplants the free market, seizes control of 1/7 of the nation's economy and subjects American healthcare and ancillary fields to central planning. Although apposed by many Americans, the PPAHA was passed due to a Democratic supermajority.
There had been significant conservative Democratic opposition to the New Deal, generations earlier, but the Great Society agenda wire-brushed conservatives out of the Democratic Party. What token resistance to the PPAHA initially existed among self-professed "pro-life" Democrats, such as Senator Ben Nelson of Nebraska or Rep. Bart Stupak of Michigan, evaporated as Party prevailed over principle.
Opponents of the PPAHA now look wistfully to the judiciary. But how likely is it that the Supreme Court will undo the new reality of nationalized healthcare? For the past half century, the judiciary has consistently ratified the expansion of federal government. Where legislation has left off, the judiciary has carried forward the fight for society changing governance.
Moreover, the composition of the court itself is a product of years of compromise. Justices Sotomayor, and Kagen, each with far-left political philosophies, and left-leaning Justice Ginsburg, sailed effortlessly through confirmation as conservative opposition within the Senate simply melted away.
It seems unlikely that the institution that brought us the Bakke, Roe v. Wade and Kelo cases will do substantial violence to the structure of the PPAHA. Regardless, the march towards societal change will likely continue apace even if the law is struck down in whole, or in part, because the political urge to compromise seems inexorable.
Compromise does not have a history of preserving peace and prosperity in America. Rather resolving conflicts, compromise has had the distinct tendency of prolonging and aggravating them. The Founding Fathers dealt with the dispute over slavery by allowing it to exist with a diminished electoral representation under the "Three Fifths Compromise." Of this accommodation Thomas Jefferson stated "I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just: that his justice cannot sleep forever."
As the Union expanded, the issue of slavery was again dealt with through a Faustian bargain, the Missouri Compromise. The blood of thousands of American men wasted on the fields of Chancellorsville, Manassas, and Antietam is the bitter fruit of such compromises.
Since the Civil War, we have generally resolved our disputes peacefully. So, it is often said that we must pick our political battles. The paradigm of the "fiscal conservative yet social liberal" is often held up as a virtuous model. Putatively conservative commentators such as Michael Barone and David Frum urge Republicans to jettison "social issues" in order to enhance electability. The mainstream press eagerly gloms this argument.
Yet, similar arguments do not emanate from the left. Immigration amnesty, class warfare, abortion-on-demand, gay marriage, affirmative action, and now, free contraception, are mainstays of Democratic messaging. It is Republicans who practice compromise, allowing the left to seize the initiative.
Compromise always benefits the aggressor. With each compromise the proponents of societal change succeed in redefining the status quo ever closer to their philosophy's fullest expression. What was once radical becomes the "new normal."
In July 2010, The American Prospect, a liberal monthly, published an article by Ann Friedman entitled, "All Politics is Identity Politics." In the piece Friedman illustrates the tautology of the left-wing belief system, stating, "we're all in it together. Labor rights are tied to gay rights are tied to women's rights are tied to immigrants' rights."
This unbroken chain extends to the expansion of social welfare programs, minority preferences, increased taxation and the over-arching goal of inverting the value system and the economic framework that historically defined the American nation.
John Maynard Keynes, the father of stimulus economics wrote, "When the final result is expected to be a compromise, it is often prudent to start from an extreme position." The liberal proponents of societal change have internalized this message, which mainstream Republican politicians do not seem to grasp.
Perhaps this explains conservative ennui in this election year. On the right, when there should be confidence that victory is within reach, there is instead a sense that the principles upon which this nation was founded and which have made it exceptional, are dissolving before our eyes...with no true champion stepping forward to preserve those principles.